Everyone is at risk now, says Morris
Game's future shrouded in uncertainty as ICC aim to allay fears following Lahore attack
Thursday 05 March 2009
Cricketers around the world remained in a state of stunned disbelief yesterday. They were trying to come to terms with the undeniable fear that they are now all targets after the murderous assault on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore and they were uncertain where it might lead for the game and its players.
There was an obvious sense that the game cannot possibly be played in Pakistan any time soon following the attack in broad daylight, in which seven people were shot dead and Sri Lanka's team were lucky to escape with their lives. But the immediate fate of the game anywhere, especially in the sub-continent, looked questionable.
The International Cricket Council has much to ponder in the days ahead and David Morgan, the president, spent yesterday contacting the board members from the senior nations. Morgan has to try to pull off the balancing act of keeping the game going while allaying concerns that players are under threat, almost impossible to in the wake of recent events.
"I think there was a general belief in the sub-continent that cricketers would never be targeted," he said. "I am glad that the ICC never compromised on security but senior figures there involved in safety and security have always advised us that cricketers would not be under threat."
The Indian Premier League, the Twenty20 tournament which has hired the world's top cricketers and superficially changed the face of the game, will be under the closest scrutiny because it is due to start early next month. It is not alone, however, and the 2011 World Cup, expected to be held in four countries of the sub-continent – India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh – may need re-organising. The IPL is strictly speaking a domestic tournament, outside the ICC's remit but it will need to monitor the planning as never before.
All that anybody asking the questions wanted to know was if the game could go on in the present climate and despite confident assertions that it would, nobody providing the answers could contradict that the gunfight in Lahore had changed everything. If that could happen as players went to a game that only a handful of people were watching, the threat in and around packed stadiums becomes frightening.
England were preparing for the fifth Test against the West Indies in Trinidad, in its way the most Caribbean place in the Caribbean, but the artificiality of it could not be concealed. "Sport is worth it, absolutely worth it," said Hugh Morris, the managing director of England cricket. "We will ensure any event we run at home or any team we take overseas, we will give as much security as we can organise." But that could not exactly still the conjecture about how much security in the playing of a cricket match is too much security.
The IPL organisers remained adamant that they would go ahead more or less as planned, with games in the nine venues being rescheduled to avoid clashes with rallies in the general election which overlaps with the tournament. Paul Collingwood, one of five England players signed by the IPL, may not have been speaking for all the world's cricketers when he said his plans had not changed so far. "I'd be lying if I didn't say that something like this raises concerns in your mind, but I'm not about to make any decisions on it – the right thing to do is to wait and see how things go from here.
"In many ways it is something that will feel very close to every cricketer around the world, but this is something that happened in Pakistan and not in India. As things unfold we will know more about what is being put in place by the IPL, but having been back to India before Christmas the security we had felt pretty good and at this stage I'm continuing as normal."
But in India some of the franchises admitted that they had been contacted by players concerned for their safety. Tim May, the chief executive of FICA, the umbrella body for players' associations, sought an immediate security summit to "brainstorm ways of mitigating the rising risk of safety within a number of countries."
May made it clear he was not concerned only with ICC events and bilateral tours but also the staging of domestic competitions in high-risk countries. He had in mind the IPL and has asked that FICA are involved in security arrangements.
Lalit Modi, the IPL commissioner, said: "We will be working closely with the Indian government and we are gearing up to put in place foolproof arrangements." After Lahore that sounded almost foolhardy. Morris of the ECB captured the mood much more accurately.
"Everybody is vulnerable around the world now, nobody can ever guarantee 100 per cent safety. We take it very seriously." If necessary, he indicated, the ECB would order its centrally contracted players not to go, but it has not reached that point yet. "Yesterday was tragedy, a shocking event, and we will have to monitor the ramifications in the weeks and months to come."
The ICC will not formally meet until next month to discuss Pakistan's part in the World Cup. But it can only make one decision, although Morgan is reluctant to state that they will be excluded. He said when asked about the prospect of players refusing to go anywhere in the sub-continent: "Maybe they will, maybe they won't." He still firmly believes that the World Cup, in India at least, will proceed.
Morgan frequently alludes to terrorism in the UK – both that practised by the IRA and the bombings in London in 2005 – as a way to quell the feeling that it is only a sub-continental problem. But he also knows that perception and reality are intertwined since Tuesday. He has a lot of convincing to do.
"The landscape has changed and we have to operate in that changed landscape," he said. "Pakistan has proven to be very dangerous and something has to change for cricket teams to go back there but things can change quite quickly." But it is another change which is much more pressing for cricket: that its players simply are not safe.
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